The head of a provincial task force looking into the alleged killings of about 100 sled dogs in Whistler last year said a cull on that scale is not normal in the dog sled industry.
Dr. Terry Lake, Liberal MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson and chair of the province's Sled Dog Industry Task Force that was launched as news of the killings broke in the media, said veterinarians euthanize dogs in a "vast majority of cases" and usually in a "way more humane than this."
"To euthanize a dog in front of a bunch of other dogs is not appropriate because the other dogs would become extremely fearful and stressed," said Lake, a veterinarian himself. "So that's just not an appropriate way of approaching euthanasia."
The task force, announced by outgoing Premier Gordon Campbell on February 8, is reviewing the sled dog industry and the circumstances relating to the incident in Whistler that is alleged to have taken place in April of 2010.
At the time a subcontractor to Outdoor Adventures Whistler, one of three companies in town that operates dog sled tours, is alleged to have killed up to 100 dogs over two days. The subcontractor has stated that the dogs were buried in a mass grave and the SPCA is now carrying out an investigation into the incident with the assistance of the RCMP.
The killings triggered a massive outcry in the community and around the world. It triggered a funeral procession through Whistler Village, a "Dog Walk for Change" the weekend after and a "Barking Mad" Tweet-up in West Vancouver. There was also a rally of hundreds at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy.
Response within Whistler has been swift. On the day that news broke about the killings, both Tourism Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb suspended bookings for Outdoor Adventures through their websites and that suspension remains in force.
As far as the Task Force's work goes, Lake said it has had three meetings, one by teleconference and two in person, and that members have spoken with veterinary professionals, animal welfare organizations and members of the sled dog industry as well as researchers on animal welfare.
"Two things are clear," Lake said. "What happened last year in terms of the way these dogs were euthanized, the number of dogs involved and the size and scope of what happened, is unprecedented. That's not typical of the industry.
"There have been cases where operators have been neglecting animals and the SPCA's had to look into some of these. There's also a great desire on the part of the industry and operators to ensure that higher standards are developed and these standards are applied to operators using dogs for racing or for tourism purposes."
Lake went on to say that the task force is investigating various options for preventing such an incident from happening again. Members are looking at changes to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which created the SPCA as a Society, changes that could include regulatory powers that tie into existing standards elsewhere.
Lake also said there's a "lot of energy" around trying to update the Criminal Code in terms of animal cruelty charges. He couldn't say for certain whether the Task Force would look at that but he said it's "good to have the conversation."
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